The case against György Szilvásy and the national security chiefs might be of historic importance

Or at least this is what Gábor Török, a political analyst, claims in his blog. Török argues that if the accused are found guilty, MSZP would be in bigger trouble than it ever was after Ferenc Gyurcsány's speech at Balatonőszöd became public. But if the charges turn out to be unfounded, perhaps the job but surely the reputation of Péter Polt, the chief prosecutor, will be in jeopardy. It is also possible–continues Török–that in this case "the present government majority can't escape political responsibility." In a democracy, says Török, "no political power can use means that are considered to be illegitimate." Török thinks that someone did use such means. Some people might be very happy because the affair might serve their political interests, but "it will be a black day for Hungarian democracy when we find out who it was." It seems that Török thinks that some kind of political game is being played here.

Ferenc Gyurcsány's take on the affair is somewhat similar to that of Török, but of course he is a politician while Török is a political scientist who tries to take a "neutral stand." According to him, there are three possibilities: (1) The court declares that Szilvásy and the former national security chiefs are guilty. One can say with all certainty that in this case these people will completely disappear from public life and the political force behind them will be greatly damaged. (2) There was a situation that might have been misinterpreted. So there was something but not as the prosecutors claim it happened. In that case the present government sacrifices the domestic and international prestige of the Hungarian national security apparatus. Such a development could have serious repercussions. Perhaps the government will not fall but its reputation will be badly damaged in the eyes of the western democracies. (3) The charges don't stand up to scrutiny and the accused are acquitted. In this case the chief prosecutor and the whole top leadership of the prosecutor's office most likely will have to resign. It will perhaps be followed by the resignation of the prime minister and his whole cabinet.

Thus Török and Gyurcsány, not exactly bosom buddies, see the situation pretty much the same way. MSZP and the liberal opposition–for example, the Magyar Demokrata Charta–are naturally convinced that these accusations, whatever they are because they were declared to be state secrets and thus we know mighty little about them, are trumped up charges. Ágnes Vadai, MSZP chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, convened a meeting yesterday to learn more about the case. The military prosecutors appeared before the committee and in twenty minutes they informed the members about the details of the case. Vadai wasn't convinced. Gergely Gulyás, the Fidesz vice-chairman of the committee, found the story believable.

Originally three men were arrested: Lajos Galambos, György Szilvásy, and Sándor Laborc. Yesterday a fourth mystery man appeared who was led together with Szilvásy into the courtroom shackled and on a chain that seemed to me at least three feet long. One wonders why it is necessary to make these people appear in the courtroom in such a way. It is very unlikely that they would bolt and run. To my mind the only reason is to disgrace the person by showing him on television in such a humiliating position. (Critics make the same case against the U.S. "perp" walks.)

It is most likely a significant development that all four men have been released on their own recognizance. If the court found the evidence presented to be well founded, especially if the charge is espionage as is rumored, these men should have remained locked up. Treason, espionage, whatever the exact accusation will be, is a very serious crime punishable by a long prison term.

Although the exact charge is still not public knowledge because of the secrecy imposed on the case by the military prosecutor's office, bits and pieces of information have come to light in the last two days. There were early reports after the arrest of Lajos Galambos, a former chief of the National Security Office, that the case might have something to do with a foundation whose leadership was involved in fraud. The rumor most likely surfaced because Galambos at one point was on the board of this foundation. Another rumor that circulated had something to do with the arrest of a man in Austria who is charged with some illegal stock exchange activity involving MOL shares. He is accused of lending a helping hand to passing MOL shares on to the Russian Surgutneftegaz. That also turned out to be a dead end.

The most likely charge is that these four people were spying for the Russians. It was Hírszerző, an Internet paper which is usually well informed, that broke the news. The paper managed to get some information after the prosecutors reported on the case to the parliamentary committee on national security. At least three of the members leaked information to the journalists. They asked the reporters not to reveal even their party affiliation, but one can easily figure it out just by what they had to say about the happenings behind closed doors. According to one of them who certainly couldn't have been an MSZP member, "the story we heard is very grave. If it is true, in retrospect a lot of things can be seen in a different light." A second informer attested to the fact that the charge was spying for Russia. Another member of the committee, who again asked not to mention his party affiliation but he helped the reporter and the reader along by saying that he is not an MSZP member, expressed his doubts about the information received. He claimed that the accusations were grave but the committee "didn't receive any supporting evidence and thus the whole case sounds unbelievable. Every time we wanted to get evidence the prosecutors and the current members of the National Security Office told us just to believe them. They have the evidence but at this stage of the investigation they cannot say more." Somehow I don't think that this mystery informer was a Fidesz member of the committee.

In this context it is important to realize that the top leadership of the Hungarian security establishment, including Galambos and Laborc, studied in Moscow at the KGB's Dzerzhinsky School. It was Ferenc Gyurcsány who nominated Laborc to head the office because during his predecessor's tenure information was constantly leaked to Fidesz politicians and from there to Magyar Nemzet. Szilvásy's and Gyurcsány's opinion was that Laborc would be able to put an end to all that.

The opposition was dead set against Laborc. In fact, one of the telephone conversations the National Security Office recorded included a request by Ervin Demeter (Fidesz), former minister in charge of national security, for UD Zrt., a private investigation firm manned mostly by former security agents, to spy on Laborc. Demeter wanted to know whether Laborc had visited Moscow recently. The former agents came back empty handed. Laborc hadn't visited Moscow. Moreover, reported the UD Zrt. man, he didn't even meet people from the Russian Embassy as his predecessor used to do. And he added that Laborc "most likely does all this on purpose, although if he followed his real inclination he would be having beer with these security guys from Russia regularly."

Thus if someone wants to create a plausible charge of espionage, Galambos and Laborc are good candidates. Mind you, both of these men served in the National Security Office ever since 1990, including the period between 1998 and 2002 when Viktor Orbán was the prime minister and László Kövér and Ervin Demeter served as ministers.

An update: we learned this morning that György Szilvásy is charged with being an accessory to the crime before the fact.


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